Category: CIS News

Alabama Public Radio Wins Fourth Sigma Delta Chi Award

The Society of Professional Journalists has awarded Alabama Public Radio (APR) a Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentary for its submission “Oil & Water: 10 Years Later,” covering the ongoing impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf coast.

“I am so proud of the APR news team and delighted that their work earned the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Radio Documentary,” said Elizabeth Brock, director of the Digital Media Center. “At a time when news cycles for even the big stories last an average of seven days, this kind of work is critically important. The support of The University of Alabama and our colleagues at the College of Communication and Information Sciences and the generosity of our listeners and supporters make it all possible.”

The documentary brings together coverage APR produced in 2010, during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and follow-up interviews gathered in the first four months of 2020. It covers a variety of long-term effects of the spill, including the economic impact and the effect the oil spill had on locals’ mental and physical health.

In an effort to address the lack of investigative and in-depth news reporting along Alabama’s Gulf coast, APR News Director Pat Duggins recruited and trained veteran print journalists in Mobile and Baldwin counties to join the news team and produce radio stories as APR Gulf coast correspondents. “Oil and Water: 10 Years Later” features the work of correspondents Guy Busby, who investigated the economic impact of the spill on local businesses, and Lynn Oldshue, who investigated the health impacts Gulf coast locals experienced after being exposed to chemicals used to help disperse the oil.

Duggins with Busby
Duggins with Oldshue

“I’m delighted that Guy and Lynn share in the spotlight for this prestigious award,” says APR news director Pat Duggins. “APR and its listeners know what a great job they do for us, and now the broadcast journalism industry does as well.”

This is APR’s fourth Sigma Delta Chi Award, having won back-to-back honors in 2011 and 2012 for coverage of the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado, and in 2016 for a documentary outlining their six-month investigation of the Alabama prison system.

Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations licensed by The University of Alabama and located in Bryant-Denny Stadium’s Digital Media Center. Its affiliation with the College of Communication and Information Sciences gives students opportunities for practical training in a variety of production activities.


About the Sigma Delta Chi Awards: First awarded in 1932, the Sigma Delta Chi Award recognizes the best in professional journalism in categories covering print, radio, television, newsletters, art/graphics and online. To learn more about the Sigma Delta Chi Awards, visit https://www.spj.org/a-sdx.asp.

 

Going Live

C&IS students enrolled in the Twitch course utilize space in the College’s Public Opinion Lab to analyze statistics related to their creative content.

C&IS students learn content marketing in innovative Twitch class

The advent of the internet dramatically reshaped the entire world, bringing together people from all backgrounds and experiences to communicate with each other and share their stories. Years later, social media would enhance that connectivity and bring us even closer together, providing platforms for all users to share videos, photos and more. Today, new platforms are popping up every day, enhancing the online conversation and introducing new neighbors from every corner of the globe.

As new platforms continue to emerge, they are shaped by a young generation of content geniuses bursting at the seams with entrepreneurial spirit and creative potential. At C&IS, part of equipping the next generation of global leaders in the world of communication and information is encouraging growth in and mastery of new emerging platforms through experience and practice. For now, that new platform is Twitch.

Twitch launched in 2011 as a new streaming website showcasing live-streamed video games and live e-sports. By 2014, the platform was purchased by Amazon and had more than 20 million visitors per month. Twitch became “the next big thing” in the tech industry, and advertising and public relations professionals quickly recognized a new creative outlet for getting content into households and onto devices all over the globe. Companies began promoting branded gaming content and partnering with streamers to sponsor them. As Twitch continued to grow, advertising strategies from major brands developed to sync with the platform and the opportunities it presented. In 2019, consumer brands spent more than $650 million on sponsorships and branded content for online streaming platforms globally. The total for 2020 surpassed $800 million, and experts predict the global spending to top $1 billion annually by 2022.

With Twitch advertising budgets at nearly $22 million and the website ranked the 14th most popular in the United States last year, the new platform can experience upwards of 2 billion hours in viewed content in one month alone. The future success of Twitch is clear now, but The University of Alabama took a chance on prioritizing the platform in the early days. That chance is paying off.

Three years ago, when COVID-19 was not part of our everyday vocabulary and the idea of a global sports stoppage was unthinkable, faculty in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations were building a partnership to help educate students on “the next big thing.” In 2018, Twitch was making its way to college campuses, and UA was one of the first institutions in the United States to launch an official university Twitch channel — the first school in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The channel was developed as a means to teach students about the platform and its relevancy to the advertising and public relations industries while also giving students a place to create their own original content.

  • Examining the analytics of their content viewership helps teams craft new content to address their audiences' feedback.
  • Student production teams collaborate to bring high-quality live streaming content to UA Twitch followers.
  • C&IS Instructor Randall Huffaker assists student Alyssa Harrison in setting up her Twitch livestream studio.

Today, students are learning the platform and practicing the art of creating their own original content through a regularly offered course specifically focused on Twitch. Developed by advertising and public relations senior instructor, Randall Huffaker, the course teaches students a variety of skills related to content marketing, including search engine optimization, social media and influencer marketing, analytics, and event promotion.

“There are billions of marketing dollars being poured into this streaming platform every year, so the potential for future public relations and advertising professionals who know the platform and can strategize with Twitch in mind is limitless,” said Dr. Kenon Brown, associate professor of advertising and public relations. Brown and Huffaker worked together to bring Twitch to UA’s campus.

The class is structured so that students work in collaborative teams where each student carries different responsibilities. Students might work on the “community management team” where they oversee the channel itself, from content to analytics. Or, they might work on the “writing team” or “creative team” where they are writing scripts or creating graphics to promote streaming events, gaming nights or interviews with industry professionals. The goal is that students contribute their unique talents while stretching themselves to learn something new through a very hands-on experience. To Huffaker, the class is about the original content creation; after all, that’s why people are part of the Twitch community.

“Taking ownership of their learning leads to a more motivated student,” said Huffaker. “They become more engaged with the concepts, preparing them for that next stage and the start of their career.”

In the C&IS Twitch class, students create content for an audience that they also develop and nurture throughout the semester. Essentially, in 12 weeks, students create a product and develop a ground-up content marketing campaign to promote it.

“It is very much a ‘learn as you go’ experience,” said J.J. McGrady, a senior public relations major from Prattville, AL, who was enrolled in the Twitch class last fall. McGrady was a member of the community management team. “We were able to learn on our own and find what content worked and what didn’t in an organic way.”

Huffaker understands what creative freedom can do in the learning process.

“I just want them to create and find things they’re passionate about and go to work,” said Huffaker. “As they create and analyze the content, they can tell a story with the data to make meaningful changes.”

“Content” can include anything from playing live video games and creating educational videos about photography, to recapping the latest episode of “The Bachelorette,” discussing UA athletics or giving a cooking demonstration. The point is for students to choose topics of their own interest and to build their content as a way of channeling that passion.

“It’s an exciting moment when the teams begin streaming their content and viewers from all over tune in, but the students know the work doesn’t stop there. That’s when we begin diving into the analytics,” said Huffaker.

Students learn how to analyze viewership metrics and social media analytics. They are responsible for adjusting their programming as necessary to reach larger audiences through Twitch and their other channels. The comprehensive and fully integrated learning experience is something the advertising and public relations department knows will give students an advantage in the industry.

“This class really helped pinpoint what aspect of public relations I would be interested in when I begin my career,” said Alyssa Harrison, design team leader for UA Twitch in fall 2020. “In the public relations field, having firsthand experience with content creation and how to use shared media platforms is a huge strength.”

What started as a class dedicated to preparing students for a new arena of marketing has now grown into a channel with national attention. The UA channel, created and managed by C&IS students, has participated in some of the biggest nationwide e-sports tournaments and the faculty has worked to garner sponsorships from worldwide companies such as Red Bull, Dell Computer, Mainline and Learfield IMC among others. And they are just getting started.

“The dollars and the data on Twitch speak for themselves,” said Brown. “We will continue to grow the course, the channel and the learning opportunities as Twitch continues to evolve and grow in the future. Our goal is to have the most highly-qualified and prepared graduates in the country and this course plays a part in that.”

Sharon Tinsley Named 2021 Dean’s Medal Recipient

C&IS Board of Visitors member Sharon Tinsley has been named the 2021 Dean’s Medal recipient by Dean Mark Nelson.

The Dean’s Medal is awarded to individuals who exemplify the qualities of sustaining friendship, unsurpassed loyalty and dedication to the College of Communication and Information Sciences. Since its inception in 2002, only twelve recipients have been honored with the award.

“This award celebrates and honors Sharon’s commitment to our college,” Nelson said. “She is valued by our faculty for her vast knowledge of the industry, and she is a trusted mentor for our students. We are incredibly thankful for her continued loyalty and support.”

Tinsley’s leadership and innovative ideas have been invaluable in developing the College’s national profile and strategic priorities. She has been a member of the C&IS Board of Visitors since 2005 and served as president from 2012-2013. An alumna of UA, Tinsley graduated from C&IS in 1986 with a degree in broadcast and film communication. Today, she currently works as the president of the Alabama Broadcaster’s Association.

A Passion for Giving Back: Scottie Rodgers

While a college diploma symbolizes years of hard work, it doesn’t always tell the full story of a person’s journey.  Behind the scenes there are usually years of preparation, extracurricular involvement, and making the most of every opportunity. Scottie Rodgers (Journalism 95’) came to The University of Alabama with a passion for writing and a strong desire to hone his skills as a communicator. Although he didn’t know it at the time, it was the experiences he would participate in as a student that would help him create his story and later shape him into a mentor for both students and alumni of the University.

Before attending college, Rodgers worked for his hometown paper, The Atmore Advance, and gained experience as a sportswriter. He also attended the University’s minority journalism workshop – now known as the Multicultural Journalism Workshop – where he won the award for best story, and his experience prompted him to declare journalism as his major at the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS).

As a student, Rodgers worked in UA Athletics for three years. He worked numerous sporting events and spent countless hours working in the athletics department through this position and was able to work closely with the women’s soccer program for the team’s first season reinstated as a varsity sport at the University.

“If it wasn’t for C&IS giving me the opportunity to grow as a person and grow into myself as a professional, then I wouldn’t be able to be where I am right now,” Rodgers said. “These were such meaningful experiences and exposed us to so much more about what the world working in sports looks like and what the world in sports was going to be.”

Rodgers believes it is important to take advantage of every opportunity. To show his gratitude for the experience C&IS provided him, he now aims to provide the same opportunities and insight to current students.

“I think if I can help someone understand what opportunity sits there in front of them and they can take advantage of it, then it’s going to open up a new world to them while they’re in school and when they step off campus as a graduate,” Rodgers said.

His main advice to both C&IS students and alumni – listen and be willing to grow and surround yourself with great people to guide you along the way.

“When you get to that new city, find the Alabama alumni. There are Alabama alumni everywhere, and it’s a great avenue to connect with people who may have similar interests,” Rodgers said. “Get involved and get engaged because you’ll be surprised who you’ll find.”

Rodgers now serves as director of communications for the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association which runs the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. He began his role in August 2020 and was a part of the 85th Cotton Bowl Classic in December 2020. Due to the pandemic, his organization also had the opportunity to host the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the 107th Rose Bowl Game and made history by hosting only the second Rose Bowl Game ever to be played outside of Pasadena.

Rodgers said that the most rewarding part of his job is celebrating the student-athletes who make it to the postseason each year.

“It’s been a vehicle to help get the stories about the student-athletes, their programs and their universities out there. We’re not directly connected to the student-athletes like someone would be who is on campus, but when they do come to our game it is a celebratory time for them,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers’ experience in sports and journalism, his gratitude for the people and opportunities that led him to his career, and his passion for helping students has encouraged him to give back to C&IS. He hopes to provide students with the knowledge and resources that will set them up for success within their future careers.

“You have to pay it forward, and I wouldn’t be here if somebody didn’t do something for me. I feel like at this stage in my career I want to make a point to focus on giving back to those who gave to me in the places that gave to me,” Rodgers said.

2021 Holle Award Winners Announced

  • 2021 Holle Award for Excellence in Screenwriting winner, Megan Friend
  • 2021 Holle Award for Excellence in Media Writing winner, Leah Goggins

The College of Communication and Information Sciences has announced the winners of the 2020-21 Holle Awards for Excellence in Creativity and Communication.

The awards are designed to celebrate and reward national student achievement in the areas of book arts, filmmaking, media writing, screenwriting and public speaking. Each of these awards include a $10,000 prize.

  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Book Arts was awarded to University of Alabama student Cheri Marks for her piece, “A Case of Equilibrium,” which explores the relationship between cyclical systems that occur, whether by deliberate choices or natural forces, to sustain balance.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Filmmaking was awarded August of The New School for his work, “Father.” The film was lauded by judges for its remarkable vulnerability and innovative, layered storytelling.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Media Writing was awarded to The University of Alabama’s Leah Goggins for her pieces titled, “Alabama Healthcare Fails Transgender Students,” “Tuscaloosa Locals Profile the Strip in New Documentary” and “INT. BIRMINGHAM – Film Industry.”
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Public Speaking was awarded to The University of Alabama’s Andrea Lawley, for her persuasive speech describing the science and evolutionary history behind human thinking, and why positive thinking is a better option than negativity.
  • The Holle Award for Excellence in Screenwriting was awarded to University of Alabama student, Megan Friend for her work “Merry Chasers.”  Judges praised Friend’s personality for bringing the story to life on every page in a brilliantly woven narrative.

“The 2021 Holle Award winners are bold and exceptional communicators from around the country,” said Dr. Mark Nelson, dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. “Their excellence as storytellers and creatives honors the legacy of Brigadier General Everett Holle and well represents the prestige of the awards that bear his name.”

In 2021, the Holle Family Foundation approved two new awards and funded their annual $10,000 prizes in perpetuity. Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, the Holle Awards will include the Holle Award for Excellence in Forensic Competition and the Holle Award for Excellence in Sports Media.

The Holle Awards are named for Brigadier General Everett Hughes Holle, a 1950 graduate of The University of Alabama who served as an announcer, director, writer and producer during his 40-year career at NBC 13. Holle was a member of the College of Communication and Information Sciences’ board of visitors where he passionately invested in the success of University of Alabama students for years. For more information about the Holle Awards, visit cis.ua.ed/holle.

Uncertainty Meets Resilience

Stories of How C&IS Met the Challenges Presented by COVID-19

Uncertainty filled the air as students left UA’s campus for spring break in March 2020. With other academic institutions already announcing a move to online learning, the announcement to halt classes, meetings and events seemed inevitable. In a University-wide email sent March 12, 2020, President Stuart Bell announced that classes would be suspended for an additional week to allow time for courses to be transitioned to alternative and remote learning methods for the remainder of the semester.

Within Bell’s email lay a hidden and hopeful charge to the entire University of Alabama extended family, “I call upon each of you—faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni and supporters—to model the creativity and strength of the campus community we have come to expect.” As the next several months would be some of the most challenging times many educators and staff had ever experienced, C&IS was determined to exceed the expectations of Dr. Bell’s challenge just as he requested—with creativity and strength.

Jackson Fuentes and Katherine Poedtke became superheroes to local school children through their efforts securing meals for local, food-insecure children during the pandemic.

CREATIVE SUPERHEROES

Each semester, students in C&IS instructor Susan Daria’s class are split into groups of 5-7 students to organize an event or initiative to raise funds and awareness for local childhood food insecurity. Since 2011, this class has raised more than $213,000 for Secret Meals For Hungry Children (SMHC) which secures discreet, non-perishable food packs to feed more than 1,700 under-nourished and food-insecure children over the weekends during the school year.

Assignments in Daria’s class, APR 419: Public Relations Concepting and Implementation, include drafting communication plans and media releases, seeking out partnerships and sponsorships with community organizations, and creating an original visual look to support the students’ efforts with advertising and promotion. The project culminates in a short video documentary of the project and a client presentation at the semester’s end. This process ensures a comprehensive learning experience for all the students involved.

“At the beginning of a typical semester, students go out and find a venue and community partners—people who want to contribute by donating items for a silent auction or contributing sponsorships,” said Daria. “But it’s all pretty much based on physical interactions.”

In-person gatherings have been an essential component of the APR 419 projects for SMHC over the years, including events such as percentage nights at local venues and restaurants. As the news of a campus-wide moratorium on events broke last spring, the SMHC fundraisers were in jeopardy for the first time in 18 semesters. Had the announcement come earlier, Daria’s students could have adjusted their plans with time to spare, but halfway through the semester the project groups were putting the finishing touches on their events logistics, advertising artwork and promotion plans.

“I sent an email to my students asking them to look into ways of doing their projects online,” said Daria. “One group was doing a pool tournament. You can’t really do something like that online…but this class didn’t let it stop them; they came together and they kept going.”

Perhaps given the extenuating circumstances, Daria could have lessened the class requirements for a semester and allowed her students to turn in a campaign without the required implementation. But crisis situations happen and preparing students to handle crises with poise and determination is essential to the quality of their education—even if it is not listed as a learning outcome in a particular course. Furthermore, Secret Meals For Hungry Children is not a hypothetical situation, or a project dreamed up as a prompt for theoretical instruction; it’s a real program with real children who rely on it to make it through the weekend well-fed. Daria understood this and so did her students.

APR 419 students created a variety of personalized advertising campaigns to spread the word about their SMHC initiatives.

“Outside factors always have the ability to change a PR plan drastically,” said PR student Katherine Poedtke (Naperville, Illinois). “You have to get the work done one way or the other. We were trying to help feed children during the pandemic, and that was all the motivation we needed to work as hard as we could to pull together as a team and as a class.”

The students had less than a week to shift their in-person fundraising and awareness events into suitable online alternatives. For most groups this meant new ideas, new graphics and new promotional tactics. One group held an online bingo game called “Backpack Bingo,” as another group launched a superhero social media campaign—complete with capes—titled, “Be a Hero.” One student even used her birthday fundraiser on Facebook to help raise money.

“Actually, moving online ended up being a positive because we were able to reach out to a lot more people that aren’t in the Tuscaloosa area,” said PR student Jackson Fuentes (Peachtree City, Georgia). “The previous events were going to be confined to the Tuscaloosa community and not as much to the online spheres. When we transitioned, the target audience grew substantially.”

Collecting funds however they could, the students became the true heroes. They rose to the challenge with creativity and determination, raising more than $8,000 to feed hungry children in a few short weeks.

“I was extremely proud of these seniors,” said Daria. “These remarkable students used their professional skills to better the lives of others—even in the face of a global crisis. Being there to witness it and to guide them has been my proudest achievement in 18 years of collegiate instruction.”

As the pandemic continued into the Fall 2020 semester, so did the efforts of advertising and public relations students to creatively raise funds and awareness to benefit Secret Meals For Hungry Children. Daria’s fall class hosted an online ‘Backpack Bingo’ event, a ‘Paw-Parazzi’ pet photo contest, an online auction titled ‘Auctions for Action,’ and a ‘Taste of T-Town’ online cookbook sale. Through all these creative ideas, these students raised another $8,000 for the community. With perseverance and resolve, Daria’s students overcame countless challenges to provide much-needed meals for dozens of West Alabama children.

Dr. Jennifer Becker (right) teaches online while students implement hands-on learning in a virtual learning environment.

PROGRESSIVE CURIOSITY

Online courses in higher education existed for decades prior to the global COVID-19 outbreak, but never before had the demand for remote access to online education been so high and so immediate. Seemingly overnight, students all across the world were unable to gather on their respective campuses for face-to-face instruction. As faculty made course transitions to asynchronous online or A/V interactive instructional methods, it was a challenge to implement interactive elements of a course or experiential learning practices.

C&IS faculty and researchers Dr. Jennifer Becker and Dr. Anneliese Bolland are working hard to improve the overall effectiveness of online education by incorporating experiential learning in their online teaching methodology and by leading conversations about effective online teaching methods for instructors and faculty across the United States.

“We are promoting a culture of excellence in online pedagogy. Exemplary online courses and instructors facilitate engaged and meaningful student learning that is deep and sustained,” said Becker. “This is possible, and one of the most powerful ways to do this is through high-impact practices.”

High-impact practices (HIPS) are teaching and learning methods such as experiential learning, internships, collaborative assignments and undergraduate research, that have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds. Experiential learning requires direct, hands-on experience in real-world contexts, focused reflection, and drawing connections to academic work, life experience and future applications.

“Experiential learning is often challenging to do inside the classroom, although there can certainly be fruitful discussions within the classroom about experiences had outside the classroom,” said Bolland. “In some ways, remote learning has opened doors to faculty thinking about additional ways to use experiential learning as a means of meeting learning objectives. Especially because some students may be living in different cities, states, perhaps even different countries right now, asking students to leave Zoom and have an intentional academic experience where they apply course material is possible.”

In Bolland’s course COM 550: Qualitative Research Methods in Communication, she utilizes various experiential learning activities as a way to bring key concepts home. For example, one assignment calls for students to observe something—interactions at the DMV, the dog park, the farmer’s market, etc.—as both a participant and a non-participant. While students observe, they are thinking through a qualitative research study and applying concepts such as ethics of observing, objectivity in observation or positionality in a study. Then, they proceed to analyze their fieldnotes and write up a mini-study. The experience is the lesson, and these learning practices have been shown to increase student engagement and retention.

C&IS professors aren’t just applying these practices to their own online courses, they’re impacting virtual campuses all across the country by leading new conversations in online education. In October 2020, Becker, Bolland and Dr. Coral Bender of LSU hosted a 60-minute session titled “Integrating Experiential Learning into Online Education” and moderated an interactive workshop at the national HIPS in the States 2020 Conference, an informal community of college and university educators working to improve the applications, tracking, and assessments of high-impact educational practices at public and private institutions.

“Our conference session was designed to spark creative applications of experiential learning in online courses,” said Becker. “When participants left the session, they left with some concrete ideas about what they could take away and apply in multiple courses of their own.”

This conversation has never been more essential for the future of higher education. Even before the pandemic, universities were seeing dramatic increases in online and distance education opportunities and decreases in main-campus enrollment. If the future of education is trending toward the online environment, it’s imperative that educators understand how to enhance their courses with high-impact practices to ensure a quality education for those enrolled. For Becker, this is a question of access.

“Everyone deserves excellent education,” said Becker. “There are so many working adults who, whether it’s a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, can further their education only through a distance learning program. And they deserve to have the same excellent experience
as a student who attends an on-campus class.” At C&IS, our faculty aren’t just implementing these practices, they are teaching and leading the way across the nation.

Dr. Thomas Weida behind the scenes for “Health Matters” with WVUA 23’s Steve Diorio and Mike Royer.

INFORMATIVE DETERMINATION

During the early days of the quarantine period, confusion and misinformation were rampant throughout the country, so breaking news was more important than ever. While many operations at The University of Alabama went fully remote in the middle of March 2020, WVUA 23—the University-owned commercial news station based in the Digital Media Center (DMC)—continued its operations.

The WVUA 23 team pressed forward through the spring semester, during the summer and into the fall, providing available, much-needed information to residents of West Alabama. They knew that, despite losing two-thirds of the news staff as their 40 undergraduate student interns returned home after spring break, they had a duty to their viewers and to their community. The news team kept running. The remaining 18 full-time staff members of WVUA 23 and four part-time master’s students shifted and took on various new roles in the newsroom.

We adjusted and filled in areas where we heavily rely on students,” said Steve Diorio, general manager for WVUA 23. “During a newscast, we would typically have seven people in the newsroom, and suddenly we had three. Anybody and everybody had to step up.”

Thanks to Zoom, story production actually increased last summer. New resources and efficient means of interviewing sources led to an ability for the shortened staff to put out more information to the community, especially in a partnership with the University Medical Center (UMC).

The staff understood the duty they had to inform their viewers on the latest developments with the virus, not to mention the other unprecedented news stories that broke over the summer. Every Friday afternoon, WVUA 23 shoots a virtual town hall, which is shared via Facebook Live on the UMC’s Facebook page. Topics range from timely Center for Disease Control reports to testing concerns in rural Alabama.

“We are working to keep our patients and the West Alabama community informed with the most up-to-date, factual and relevant information about ways to stay healthy and safe during this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Richard Friend, Dean of the College of Community Health Sciences. “WVUA has been an important and vital partner in this endeavor.”

The partnership between WVUA 23 and the UMC extends beyond the Facebook Live town halls. Another tool WVUA 23 used is a long-running weekly segment called “Health Matters,” featuring staff from the UMC. Dr. Thomas Weida, the Chief Medical Officer for the UMC, became affectionately nicknamed “Captain Covid” because of his appearances on the UMC town halls and his regular segments on “Health Matters.”

In the past, these segments would hit on topics like diet, heart health and hygiene, but after the COVID-19 outbreak, the segments shifted to the various effects of the virus. WVUA 23 and the UMC recognized the importance of topics like mental health, sleep health and stress relief in a time when many people are dealing with anxiety in a way they have never experienced before.

In addition to addressing the sometimes-unrecognized side effects of the virus outbreak, useful information like preventative measures that parents could take as their children return to school and food preparation tips to avoid COVID-19 exposure were also covered. These segments continue to run every Wednesday with re-runs airing on Sunday nights. The full-length interviews, usually around eight minutes, are immediately available on WVUA 23’s website.

Now, the WVUA 23 students are back in action and are a large part of the continued mission to keep the West Alabama community informed during these uncertain times. Student interns are learning a great deal about the ever-changing nature of a functioning newsroom and will carry the unique lessons of the last year into their future careers.

LOOKING AHEAD

Challenges provide unique opportunities to find strengths in hidden places and let them shine, because people committed to doing their best are strengthened by adversity, and so they press on. The dedicated work of faculty, staff and students during the COVID-19 outbreak proves that even during difficult circumstances, C&IS strives to develop global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication, media and information spectrum. We see this in the creative resilience of APR 419 students fundraising to provide meals for hungry children after their plans and events were no longer operational. We see this in the progressive curiosity of C&IS faculty challenging the status quo of online learning and teaching the nation their tactics. And we see this in the informative determination of a campus news station putting in the extra hours to guard their community with truth. Looking ahead, we know that challenges will continue to abound and, as an academic community who is persevering during difficulties such as the COVID-19 pandemic, we expect to meet these challenges with the same strength and creativity.


COMMUNICATOR, ISSUE 41

Communicator is published by the Capstone Communication Society and The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences. Its purpose is to keep alumni and supporters informed about the programs, services and activities of the College, as well as developments in the fields of communication and information. To read the latest issue of Communicator, click here

Naidoo and Peacock Receive Awards for Excellence in Community Engagement

The University of Alabama’s Council on Community-Based Partnerships has recognized Dr. Jamie Naidoo (Foster EBSCO Endowed Professor, School of Library and Information Studies) and Dr. Cynthia Peacock (Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies) with Excellence in Community Engagement Awards. The awards celebrate their outstanding work in faculty/staff-initiated community engagement efforts.

Naidoo was recognized for establishing the “SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt and Beyond.” Since its launch in 2009, the Book Bonanza has provided more than $150,000 in brand new children’s and young adult library books for more than 70 schools around the state of Alabama. For more information about the SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt and Beyond, visit their website here.

Peacock was celebrated for her course COM 595-003: Political Primaries and Caucuses. In Spring 2020, Peacock traveled with five UA students to participate in field research ahead of the Iowa caucuses.  The team designed a research project and gathered data at political rallies and caucuses for four days. This research about presidential candidate support has been presented at the National Communication Association’s annual conference and was recently published in the campaign issue of American Behavioral Scientist.

Students on the C&IS team learned research skills such as survey questionnaire design, participant recruitment and data analysis techniques to explore critical issues in political campaign communication. The course was designed to deliver high-impact, engaging learning opportunities to graduate students interested in political communication research.

“As a teacher, there is nothing more fulfilling than seeing students excited about learning,” said Peacock. “Attending the rallies and caucuses brought to life so many of the theories and concepts that we had been studying in the classroom. Doing field research with a fantastic group of graduate students from C&IS was the experience of a lifetime. I appreciate the supportive colleagues and wonderful students who make it all possible.

Naidoo and Peacock received the awards on Thursday, April 22 at the 15th Annual Excellence in Community Engagement Awards celebration. For a full list of this year’s winners, visit their website here.

The University of Alabama Center for Community Based Partnership’s role is to connect faculty, staff, students and community partners in research-based projects designed to solve critical problems identified collaboratively by community members and the University. Each year, Excellence Awards for Outstanding Engagement Effort are presented to recognize projects that successfully demonstrate strong synergistic collaboration between the University and community organizations and/or extend the classroom experience.

Making Graduation Reappear: Curt Anderson

Curt Anderson (left) with Ty after presenting his project

When a magician takes the stage, every eye in the room is on him. The captivated audience watches closely—trying to spot how he saws his assistant in half, how he escapes his restraints just in the nick of time, and how he can make anything disappear and then reappear a moment later. The audience gasps with each reveal before sharing in a collective curiosity, “How on earth did he do that?”

Since unenrolling from The University of Alabama in the 1980s to pursue a career as a professional magician, Curt Anderson has performed his magic act in 42 states all around the country. A few years ago, Curt resumed his studies when he became a full-time caregiver to his epileptic son, Ty. Because of Ty’s need for constant care and supervision, he attended every single class with Curt. On Friday, April 30—decades after initially enrolling—Curt will graduate with a degree in communication studies. Wondering how on earth he did it? Luckily for you, this is one magician who does reveal his secrets.

“Ty loves being on campus and being around people,” said Curt. “I got him a backpack and some workbooks he could do, and then he would just watch and listen to people during classroom presentations. He felt like he was going to a half a dozen shows every week. He loved it.”

While the severity of epilepsy and its triggers can vary from person to person, generally epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects the body’s nervous system, causing disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain (seizures). One in 26 people in the United States have been diagnosed with epilepsy (3.4 million) and approximately 60% of those diagnosed do not know the cause.

Ty Anderson has one of the more severe and rare forms of epileptic seizures, known as Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal) seizures. The seizures affect his entire body for 30 seconds to three minutes, which is followed by a recovery stage (postictal), where he is so worn out that he’s almost unconscious. To date, Ty has had over 12,000 seizures, a few of which took place during class.

“At one point in his life, Ty was having 30 to 40 seizures a day,” said Curt. “Every time he has a seizure it’s difficult—and it’s never convenient—but I just decided that life had to keep going on. We found a way to deal with it.”

Despite what you may think, there is no law that requires the University to permit Ty to attend classes with his dad. For Curt, this meant he had to seek special permission from each and every course instructor and there had to be a certain understanding among his classmates. Additionally, Ty had to get a special UA ACT Card to be able to attend after-hours lectures in the library, and Curt had to request special accommodations for parking.

“It took a lot of talking to a lot of people, but eventually we got it all approved,” said Curt. “As soon as I would sign up for a class, I’d email the professor to explain the situation and work out the details. There was only one class that didn’t work out, and that was because it was so full there wasn’t a seat for Ty. So, I just took it the next semester.”

With all the challenges Curt and Ty faced, one thing that greatly encouraged him was the support he received from the C&IS community.

“I can’t think of a single negative experience, not one,” said Curt. “I’ve had students ask if Ty and I want to meet them in the Ferguson Center for lunch just to hang out. The amount of intelligence and caring and concern in the college-aged students since I’ve been here has been amazing.”

He may be finishing this act on Friday, but as the curtain falls, rest assured—this is not the final show for Curt Anderson. He has been accepted in a master’s program for communication studies at UAB, where he will specialize in deception. After that, he wants to pursue a Ph.D. to better understand how deception works and combine that with his personal experience.

“As a magician, I’ve got a different perspective. Everybody in the field of deception has an academic background; I’ve got a background in actually deceiving people,” said Curt. “There are some things magicians do to fool people that haven’t been studied in the sense of general deception, and audiences are getting more sophisticated at a faster pace than magicians are progressing the art. If I can better understand how deception is built, then I can help magicians build better deceptions.”

C&IS Research Spotlight: 2021 Grant Writing Institute

The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS) Grant Writing Institute is back, and this year, participants have set their sights high, hoping to secure large grants to make their submissions a reality. Additionally, all three participants are focusing their research on areas that impact public health.

While grant details are still being finalized, at least two of the three participants this year are considering submissions for the NIH Research Project Grant Program (R01). The Research Project Grant is the oldest grant mechanism used by NIH and provides support for health-related research and development based on its mission.

“An R01 grant is the biggest funding mechanism that NIH has,” said Dr. Kim Bissell, Associate Dean for Research at C&IS. “R01 is the big one. These are full research proposals typically in excess of $1 million and can be up to $5 million at times.”

Grant Writing Institute participants are partnering with additional project investigators to build interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teams for their grant submissions. As these grants are very expensive, the review process is very selective, and the more experience their team has among its collaborative members, the more likely they are to be approved.

“Ultimately, the goal is to secure funding but especially when you are applying for substantial amounts of money, you rarely get awarded on your first try,” said Bissell. “What you hope is that you get well reviewed so that you can use the comments you receive to tweak your submission and reapply.”

Now in its third year, the C&IS Grant Writing Institute provides faculty participants with the tools necessary to complete a submission for research funding and apply to a federal or state agency or a foundation within 12 months of the start of the program. Led by Dr. Kim Bissell and Dr. Anneliese Bolland, the program works through a partnership between the Institute for Communication Research (ICIR) and the departments within C&IS to provide each of the participants a semester-long course release to complete their grant submission.

The 2021 C&IS Grant Writing Institute participants are:

Dr. Sim Butler

Dr. Sim Butler (Department of Communication Studies) is proposing an intervention-development project help medical professionals better communicate information when providing care for transgender patients.

Dr. Eyun-jung Ki

Dr. Eyun-jung Ki (Department of Advertising and Public Relations) is requesting $250,000 from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to test the feasibility and effect of a conversational artificial intelligence application as a daily emotional wellbeing sustainability tool.

Dr. Jiyoung Lee

Dr. Jiyoung Lee (Department of Journalism and Creative Media) is working on a proposal about designing artificial-intelligence-based interventions to correct vaccine-related misperceptions and reduce vaccine hesitancy, particularly focusing on rural populations which are lacking medical information accessibility.

UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.

Research Spotlight: Dr. A.J. Bauer

United States history is home to a diverse and ever-shifting spectrum of political ideas. As political parties rise and fall, and power narrowly swings from one majority opinion to the other, we seek understanding for how and why these things occur. By engaging with past newspapers, speeches, television reels and other historical archives, scholars are able to examine how different ideologies emerged, how influential political figures gained momentum and what key moments marked their ascension to (or fall from) political power.

Dr. A. J. Bauer is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Creative media. As a faculty researcher, Bauer studies the modern conservative movement by examining conservative news, right-wing media, political communication and American studies. According to Bauer, many historians see the conservative movement as several distinct ideologies that fused together after the Second World War. Different political ideals would rise and fall within this movement for decades, but one issue sticks out as a common denominator—a criticism of national media.

“A lot of times scholars will focus on a particular idea as being the basis of the conservatism: opposition to Roe vs. Wade, the support of gun rights or the support of various interventions overseas to spread democracy,” said Bauer. “My research points to the fact that from the very beginning, the key issue uniting all these ideals was a critique of the media.”

To Bauer, a key undercurrent that helps bind together various conservative political efforts is a distrust of and experienced opposition to the mainstream media. This opposition unites voters and activists from various causes—even causes that seem to contradict one another—because they are able to co-identify as part of the same resistance to a common perceived enemy, the press.

Much of Bauer’s research is ethnographic, meaning that he examines right-wing and conservative media from the perspective of the movement itself. This involves him consuming and analyzing large amounts of conservative media on the air, at annual gatherings such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and interviewing conservative journalists as a basis for his research. And, because understanding the historical context of conservatism is vital to understanding the contemporary conservative movement (and vice versa), the other major component to Bauer’s research is historical—examining archives, ranging from those of conservative journalists like Fulton Lewis, Jr. to the records of the Federal Communications Commission.

“I toggle back and forth between my historical work and contemporary work, always trying to keep one foot in the contemporary because it’s so rapidly evolving,” said Bauer. “We have hindsight so we can look at seemingly obscure figures who no one cared about and map through history how their ideas gained steam and turned into something really big later on.”

Regardless of the cultural moment, Bauer’s research casts light on and brings greater understanding of a continually developing cultural perspective and its media. But it’s easy to see how the news cycle from the past several years makes his research all that more relevant and vital to understanding conservative news.

“I read conservative news all the time, and I learn things from it even though it is biased in a particular way. You can have reading strategies that overcome the question of bias,” said Bauer. “But the question is, ‘What are the values we use to assess partisan media on the right, on the left—both?’ How do we create a way of talking about it that isn’t just reduceable to bias?”

Bauer believes the key is nurturing an active and critical reading strategy, because the argument that media is biased assumes that people consume their media uncritically. He says readers who expect the news to be the arbiter of unquestionable and certain truth at all times are expecting it to do something its incapable of doing. Instead, the answer is to create a more politically aware culture by engaging openly in thoughtful conversations—even with people we don’t know.

“The idea that politics is a touchy subject we can’t talk about reinforces the notion of echo chambers and the siloing off that happens,” said Bauer. “By expecting the media to do something that fixes the problem, we overlook the fact that the only solution to the problem is more actual engagement between citizens, even citizens who disagree with one another.”

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit cis.ua.edu/research.